Asian Insider Feb 12: A buzz about Trump & Xi meet

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

TRUMP & XI TO MEET?

Is a deal to end the months-long trade war between the US and China in line of sight? The possibility is stirring hopes after unconfirmed reports that US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are planning a meeting. Two venues are apparently in the reckoning: the island of Hainan which hosts the annual Boao Forum for Asia and the Mar-a-Lago Resort in Florida, which is reportedly Mr Trump’s preference.

A pertinent point is that even if the meeting does take place, it will only be after the March 2 deadline when higher tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese exports to the US are set to kick in. This raises the question of whether the current trade truce between the world’s two largest partners will be extended. One US official, David Malpass, the Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, uttered a curt no when asked that question. But speculation is on as preparatory meetings continue in Beijing ahead of talks involving US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

Those who think a deal is within reach point out that China has been ticking off some items high on the US wishlist - letting down barriers for the entry of foreign firms and pushing a law to ban the theft of intellectual property and coerced technology transfers. Others are skeptical, citing Beijing’s propensity to veer away from promises. The markets, meanwhile, are inching into the positive territory, perhaps sniffing a deal.

 But if you will lend a ear to our Global Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Eyal, he says there are bigger things than trade wars to worry about: a new nuclear arms race, for instance. If not managed sensibly, it could create tensions every bit as dangerous as the darkest moments of the Cold War half a century ago.

THAI PARTY’S FATE IN BALANCE

Executives of the Thai political party which made an audacious bid to nominate a princess for prime minister resurfaced on Tuesday, after days of lying low.

"We as a political party have made commitment to the people and our members to take part in this election... We are sincere in our wish to see the country move forward," said Thai Raksa Chart party leader Preechapol Pongpanit.  “Now we are running our campaigns and getting ready for the election.”

The threat of dissolution continues to hang over the party.  The Election Commission met on Tuesday and is likely to set up a special committee that will investigate if the party flouted rules that forbid the use of monarchy in election campaigns.

On Monday, the commission ruled Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, King Maha Vajiralongkorn's elder sister, out of the March 24 election. Her name was left out of a list prime minister nominees released by the commission yesterday. There are 69 names, including that of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on the list.

Follow: Our coverage of the next month’s Thai election here.

MALAYSIA EXORCISING THE GHOST OF 1MDB

A day after the abrupt and indefinite postponement of former prime minister Najib Razak’s corruption trial, Malaysia announced it was cleansing its new financial district of the 1MDB fallout.

A consortium of four banks signed an agreement on Tuesday to inject fresh funds of RM2.15 billion (US$527 million) for the TRX project. This was a pet project of Najib, who named it after his father, Malaysia’s second prime minister Tun Razak Hussein.

“Rest assured that the TRX is detoxified,” Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. “We are slowly, but surely exorcising the ghosts of 1MDB which has tainted Malaysia as the destination for business and investment.”

Once complete, the 70-acre site will eclipse the Twin Towers to become Malaysia's tallest building.

INDIA’S SOUTH TURNING GREY

India is said to have a favourable demography. Half of its population is under 25 and two-thirds is below 35. But the picture is not so bright for the country’s four southern states, a recent study points out.

More than a fifth of the population in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka will be above 65 by 2050. The southern states are more developed than the states in the north, their people enjoy longer lifespans and have lower fertility rates. And, hence, a rising number of elderly.

The trend has implications, reports India Correspondent Debarshi Dasgupta. The study warns that the demographic imbalance will trigger a "huge migration" of workers from the less prosperous north to the south, resulting in "imminent pressure in terms of infrastructure". In Kerala, the presence of many migrant workers from West Bengal and Assam has already generated friction, with crimes often being blamed on these workers.

The fear of “more eating mouths and fewer working hands” led the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh N. Chandrababu Naidu to ask couples to have more than two children - the number advocated in India’s national family planning programme.

ON BOARD CHINA’S FASTEST TRAIN

The last time our China Correspondent Chong Koh Ping rode more than 2,000km across China, it was on the fastest “slow” train from Beijing to Kunming. It was the summer of 2012 and her train chugged along at an average speed of 68kmh. Six years later, she took China’s fastest train, with an average speed of 300kmh. Join her on the Fuxing (Rejuvenation) train from Hong Kong to Beijing as she recounts the sights and stories of China, past and present. And navigate the journey with our interactive graphics.

Today, 29 of China's 31 provinces and regions are connected by bullet trains. More Chinese are choosing to ride rather than fly. For a closer look at how lifestyles and travel patterns have been transformed since China’s first bullet train began running a decade ago, read China Correspondent Lim Yan Liang’s account of the world's most ambitious high-speed rail development plan.

That’s it for today, folks! Hope you will join us again tomorrow.

- Bhagya

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